DA says deadly Santa Maria police shooting was justified

April 5, 2017

The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office has concluded that last summer’s fatal shooting of a mentally ill Santa Maria man was a justifiable homicide. A report released by the district attorney’s office states three Santa Maria officers had reasonable fears of death or serious injury during the shooting.

Javier Gaona, 31, was armed with a knife and reportedly suicidal when officers shot and killed him on July 20, 2016. Many witnesses to the shooting said it constituted excessive force, but the Santa Maria Police Department has maintained the homicide was justified. Gaona’s family has already filed a lawsuit alleging officers used excessive force and made no effort to diffuse the situation through crisis intervention tactics.

Officers spoke to Gaona in Spanish and a negotiator talked about Gaona’s family, according to the district attorney’s report.

“I have no family; they all left me,” Gaona responded, according to the district attorney’s office.

After Gaona mentioned God, the negotiator told him it is a sin to kill yourself.

“I am not going to kill myself; you are going to kill me. You guys are here to hurt me,” Gaona said, according to the DA’s report.

After a while, Gaona refused to interact with officers and negotiations broke down.

Officers then fired and struck Gaona with less lethal munitions. Gaona responded by trying to stab himself in the abdomen and cut his own throat, the DA’s report states. Blood did not appear, though.

Next, Gaona charged directly at officers with the knife in his hand, and he pointed it in their direction, according to the district attorney’s office. Gaona ran about 25 feet toward the officers while holding the knife.

Police opened fire with lethal rounds, striking Gaona 14 times. Gaona fell to the ground 13 to 14 feet away from where one officer was standing when he began shooting, the DA’s report states.

California law allows a person under attack, including a police officer, to stand his ground and defend himself with deadly force, if necessary.

Multiple witnesses captured video footage of the shooting. The footage shows officers positioned behind patrol vehicles and Gaona stumbling as police shoot him.

During the incident, a crowd of onlookers was watching from across the street. After officers shot Gaona, the crowd reacted angrily, accusing police of excessive force and murder.

In determining the homicide was justifiable, prosecutors cited court rulings that state officers may use deadly force when they have a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury and that reasonableness should be judged from the perspective of the officer at the scene, not from hindsight.

Gaona’s family’s lawsuit alleges the officers did not act in a reasonable manner.

“Reasonable officers would not have concluded that Javier, isolated and surrounded by a throng of heavily armed law enforcement officers and their patrol cars, posed an imminent threat of serious physical harm to any individual other than perhaps himself,” the lawsuit states.

Gaona’s family is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as reimbursement for legal costs. Prior to filing the lawsuit, Gaona’s family filed a claim against the city seeking $3 million in damages, as well as mandatory training for officers on handling incidents involving emotionally or mentally unstable individuals.

A toxicology report conducted following Gaona’s death revealed that he had a significant amount of methamphetamine in his system during the fatal incident.


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retiredpoliceofficer

If the facts are accurate this was clearly justifiable although unfortunate.


mkaney

The man did not rush police. There is another video at a different angle where it is very clear that they shot him with the bean bags and it hurt like hell, so he lunged forward, attempting to run between the police, which were positioned BEHIND their vehicles. Then they opened fire with real bullets. This was absolutely cold-blooded murder.


demiseofslo

I think one bullet to the arm or leg would have dropped that knife.

These cops are untrained and scared to follow protocol so they go straight for deadly force.

SMH


Rambunctious

Tell ya what, I’ll get a big knife and run towards you and you shoot me in the leg or the arm, okay?


mkaney

I’ll take that challenge, and I won’t even shoot you. But like the police, I get to have 10 of my biggest friends with me and we all get to have kevlar vests and other protective gear. And I guarantee you that we will have you down without you seriously wounding one of us, without any special training.


RonHolt

Are you trolling or just ignorant of firearms? I can’t say for sure that they didn’t have other options but trying to shoot someone moving toward you with a knife in “the arm or leg” is BS for poorly written TV shows. It would be an unreliable method for someone who practiced constantly for such a scenario and most police officers don’t have the time for doing that. Handguns are not that easy to shoot accurately at 25′ with an unmoving target. A moving one makes it much more difficult.